Sunday, March 19, 2006

Does Globalization Undermine the State?

Have Europeanization and globalization eroded the autonomy of the state as a political unit?


The political unit known as the state has received increased attention in political
science by scholars such as Skocpol, Tilly, Ertman and Pierson. This “statist” movement sought to correct the atomistic and agent-centered methodology of rational-choice that had come to dominate the discipline, and instead explored the structural influence of the state on politics. Thus when faced with the question of whether or not the process of Europeanization erodes the autonomy of the state, it is instructive to understand the state – institutionally and functionally. I will situate the literature on states (Weber, Tilly and Ertman) into the ongoing debate about Europeanization and globalization in comparative politics. Although Europeanization and globalization are two analytically distinct ideas, both are linked to the rise of capitalist markets, capital mobility, the fight against Communism, and changes that affect national policies and practices (Schmidt 2002: 41). This essay will address how state autonomy might be eroded in light of these pressures, but it also highlights how states retain their autonomy when the pressures to integrate seem overwhelming.

Weber, Tilly, Ertman and State Autonomy

Max Weber’s definition of the state has generally been the basis for which all scholars have explored the issue. For Weber, the state “is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” (Weber 1983: 111). Weber’s definition describes several institutional features of the state: differentiation of personnel, centrality of political relations, territorial demarcation and authoritative rule-making supported by violence (Mann 1986: 112). Although nation-states in Europe have retained most of these aspects, two in particular come into question with respect to Europeanization and globalization processes.

While the state retains its differentiation, the rise of Europeanization does put into question the centrality of political relations. For example, the neo-functionalist school has argued that integration involves processes that go beyond the state and occur between trade unions, political parties and interest groups (Verdun 2000: 28). As well, political decisions potentially reside in Brussels, undercutting the authority of member-states in the EU, NATO, or the monetary union. On the other hand, intergovernmentalists like Andrew Moravscik have claimed that the state still has “national preferences” and these state preferences precede European integration (Moravscik 1998: 242). National governments do not have to “swallow policies” they dislike and generally can integrate on their own terms (Hooghe and Marks 1998: 284). Secondly, Weber’s claim that state rule-making is backed up a monopoly on the use of violence comes into question. Although Western Europe for sometime has relied on a collaborative institution (NATO) for security, the inability of European states to cope with their territorial holdings could place state autonomy in the balance. Moreover, situations concerning migration, immigration, and a common defense program could potentially erode state autonomy.

Charles Tilly accepts Weber’s “contestable definition” of the state in light of the European state-making experience (Tilly 1990: 70). Tilly is less concerned, however, with describing the aspects of the state and more interested in how states in modern Europe formed. For Tilly, states were formed by making war against outside rivals, protecting the domestic population from those rivals and extracting resources from that population in order to finance wars and statemaking (Tilly 1990: 97). Each process reinforced the next, in some ways resembling what Tilly would call a mafia-like outfit – coercing someone to pay for their own protection.

Tilly’s piece is informative because it highlights how one political unit came to replace another. In this case, how states replaced empires, religious communities and city-states to become the exclusive political unit. A peculiarly European invention, the nation-state has been accepted by almost the entire world (Tilly 1990: 181). But it is not inconceivable that states could one day be replaced, and at the least, be undermined by large, amorphous international regimes like the European Union. The processes of Europeanization and globalization that potentially erode state autonomy have been anti-Tilly in some respects. Europeanization and globalization transform previous notions of territory by emphasizing monetary unions and free flow of capital goods rather than protecting boundaries by making war. In the case of the EU, Europeanization originated as a way to prevent war and encourage cooperation between the states (Story and Walter 1997: 4-5). But in other respects, the EU has used tactics similar to Tilly’s account to achieve consolidation. Prior to the Maastrict signing, there was a high degree of coercion and a specified set of rules to abide by among member-states in order to jibe with EU edicts (Schmidt 2002: 87). By allowing the coercion of Europeanization states could take a back seat to other political units.

Lastly, Thomas Ertman also examines state building in Europe but introduces a different perspective from Tilly that examines variation among different states. For Ertman, the role of representative institutions and local government play a large role in the statemaking process. Moreover, previous scholars sloppily mislabeled regime types, linking all absolutist regimes to bureaucracies and all constitutional regimes to parliamentary systems (Ertman 1997: 4-5). In fact, as Britain showed, there are bureaucratic constitutional regimes and in the case of Poland and Hungary, patrimonial constitutional regime types (Ertman 1997: 34).

Ertman’s argument is fascinating because it asks “statist” scholars to take seriously how states are different from one another in their domestic policies. Thus, the presence of Europeanization and globalization could very well reduce the autonomy of some states but have no effect on others. Vivien Schmidt notes the “varieties of capitalism” with a comparative glance at Britain, France and Germany. She argues that although there have been tremendous pressures on the countries by the processes of Europeanization and globalization this has not led to “convergence” into one type of capitalist system (Schmidt 2002: 5). Britain’s liberal market capitalism, France’s state capitalism and Germany’s corporatist capitalism produced different responses to the pressures of Europeanization. Britain adopted a policy of intertia, France a policy of transformation and Germany a policy of absorption (Schmidt 2002: 89). States retained the ability to decide themselves not to “swallow” pressures they deemed unsuitable.


This essay has tried to express the potential that Europeanization and globalization could have on eroding state autonomy. In doing so, I examined several works regarding the state and state formation. In some cases, the rise of Europeanization and globalization threaten the autonomy of states by undermining territorial boundaries, placing authority in the hands of non-state actors, and using coercion to keep states under the rubric of the European Union. But although erosion is possible, scholars like Moravscik and Schmidt cast some caution on this perspective by showing the influence of national governments. Each case proves the powerful impact Europeanization and globalization have on states